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Mission: It's Possible

Carol DeLoach, designer, Michael Shackelford, broker & student photographer, John Frank, Realtor® & photography professor
The Mission: To create professional-quality photography with inexpensive consumer cameras (less than $500) and $40 painter lights from a local home improvement store. I assisted Michael Shackelford, the listing associate and broker, with photographing a home in Lakewood Ranch, a community near Sarasota. We wanted photography that made this home look “Delightful on a Dime.”

The Home: A new 6,300-square-foot home priced at $3.25 million. The homeowner agreed that staging the home with furnishings and adding some window treatments would improve its marketing. The home was also landscaped.

Furnishings and Design: Having a nicely furnished home is essential to great photography. Carol DeLoach, of Showcase Designs in Sarasota, worked with the owner to design the interior of the home and window treatments. Since window treatments are expensive, Carol proposed a major one for the glass sliders in the living room. This was a wise choice as it’s the first area a prospective buyer sees upon entering the front door. (Editor’s Note: The homeowner had already contracted and nearly completed the interior design, when the sales associate approached him with the idea of a test shoot. We wanted a real-life case study with nothing specially prepared for this shoot.)

The Cameras: Our two consumer-grade cameras were a FUJI FinePix S9100—a MP camera—and a FUJI FinePix S6000fd—a 6MP camera. Both come with the same 28-300mm lens. We chose two FUJI digital cameras because of their wide-angle lens capability, their image quality, the SPOT metering mode and their online price of less than $500 each.

If you’ve taken interior pictures of bathrooms, you can appreciate the value of wide-angle cameras. At 28mm this lens is much wider than most consumer cameras, and FUJI produces an accessory lens attachment that allows even wider shots.

Since one camera creates a 9MP file and the other a 6MP file, we were able to prove that one shouldn’t judge a camera by its number of pixels. The FUJI 6MP file is plenty large enough for sales associates who shoot well-cropped images.

In images 8” x 10” and smaller, you won’t be able to tell the difference between the two. Further, 6MP files use less storage space on your computer.

Camera Settings: The AUTO setting worked fine 95 percent of the time, with the meter set in the SPOT mode. In the AUTO mode (where almost everyone shoots), we knew that we needed to choose the SPOT meter mode (of three choices). This basic method of camera shooting is simply easy. We could have chosen advanced settings, but instead elected to choose easy settings to prove that anyone can do this quality of work. We did get a little “fancy” and went to the AUTO A (aperture priority) mode and chose the white-balance mode or incandescent setting. This yielded color that was a little more consistent. We let the camera decide the exposure and the focus. We evaluated the quality of lighting by seeing what looked good in the viewfinder. All these simple camera settings are detailed in the camera’s instruction book.

The Lighting: Very simple. We went to Home Depot and bought two Husky 1,000W halogen work lights, generally used by painters, at $40 each. We were pleased with the quality of the light they provided. We did trip a circuit breaker when we plugged the two lights into the same 120V outlet, but an extension cord allowed us to plug one into another outlet that was on a different circuit breaker. We did all work with the halogen lighting near, or after, dusk, ensuring that the outside daylight quality of light didn’t fight with the interior quality of halogen and other incandescent lighting. All interior images were taken with only one or two lights. One word of caution—halogen lights can get very hot when on, and they take a while to cool down, so be careful.

Positioning of the Lights:
These lights can be turned directly onto the subject area to evenly illuminate the room. However, digital cameras like diffused lighting, and it’s easily created by pointing the light at a ceiling or wall behind or to the side of the area you’re photographing. The reflected light, bouncing off the ceiling or wall, illuminates the scene with soft, even light. This is really easy to preview with a digital camera. Remember to try this first at night with all the home’s lighting on.

Now, I can hear some of you saying, “I have a window that I want to look like light is passing through.” We had this problem in bathrooms. We solved this using one of our painter’s lights to illuminate the scene by bouncing light off the back wall, and placing the other outside in a position to shine through the window. After dark, it looked like we had sunshine coming through the bathroom window. The exterior images were done by using the light to illuminate the home’s exterior.

The results shown here speak for themselves. These are unretouched images. Get a little creative and have fun experimenting with a couple of utility lights.